By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
That’s what instantly crossed my mind after reading the documents sent to me: South Korea’s Park Geun-hye administration has arrested, charged and prosecuted an opposition legislator allegedly for plotting to overthrow the government. It also seeks to dissolve his political party and oust him plus his five party colleagues from the National Assembly.
I recalled what happened here in 2006. Angered by popular protests over her “stealing” the 2004 presidential election, President Arroyo declared a state of national emergency. Her government charged me and my five progressive party-list colleagues in Congress with rebellion. For 71 days we holed up in our offices; the House of Representatives assured us protection against arrest as long as we stayed in the Batasan premises. We questioned the charge before the Supreme Court. In July 2007 the SC ordered it dismissed for lack of evidence.
(In the 2001 and 2004 elections the state security forces tried, in vain, to have my political party, Bayan Muna, disqualified by the Commission on Elections for allegedly having links with the underground revolutionary movement.)
Alas, in the South Korean case the legislator, Lee Seok-ki of the Unified Progressive Party, was arrested at his office in September 2013 after the National Assembly voted to waive his non-arrest privilege. A week earlier the National Intelligence Service raided the offices and residences of 10 UPP members and arrested three party officials.
The NIS indicted Rep. Lee for three trumped-up charges: 1) plotting an insurrection; 2) inciting an insurrection and violating the National Security Law of 1948; and 3) “acting in concert” with North Korea.
The National Security Law has been severely criticized for being repressive. In 1953 South Korea’s first Supreme Court chief justice already called for its abolition. When she was with the opposition, the current President Park (daughter of the late dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled for 18 years after staging a coup in 1961), reportedly urged the repeal of its Article 7 Clause 1 — the provision used to indict Lee Seok-ki.
Lee’s trial began in October with only one prosecution witness presented – a NIS infiltration agent who quoted from transcripts of tape recordings of a speech made by Lee. The transcripts, altered by NIS in the version made public and used to indict him, were corrected in 272 instances to conform with the contents of the tapes submitted to the court. Lee gave his final testimony in February 2014, refuting all the allegations against him.
Based on the NIS indictments, the Ministry of Justice formed a task force to look into the “unconstitutionality” of the Unified Progressive Party. The task force conducted a secret investigation and “found,” as expected, that the UPP had violated the post-dictatorship 1987 Constitution. The justice ministry immediately endorsed the report to the Cabinet Council without hearing the UPP’s side.
In November 2013, the Cabinet Council adopted a motion to file a petition at the Constitutional Court to dissolve the UPP. It also sought an injunction, pending the court’s ruling, to ban all the party’s activities.
Why is the Park Geun-hye government trying hard to repress Lee Seok-ki and his political party?
Just five months before his arrest, Lee spoke positively before the National Assembly on Park’s Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula, which purportedly seeks to advance Koreas’ unification on the “foundation of trust between the South and the North.” Should Park pursue such program that would end war in the peninsula, he declared, “we at the United Progressive Party will provide full support.”
According to the UPP account, reflected in a declaration issued by “international political parties” opposing the party’s dissolution, the Park government was retaliating on political-ideological grounds and personal slight. The reasons cited are:
1. Park’s conservative Saenuri Party devised the plot “to eradicate the possibility of a future power transfer to the opposition parties,” in light of the UPP’s rapid growth over 14 years and its influence on other opposition parties. In the April 2012 general elections it cobbled together the progressive and liberal-moderate parties, winning huge popular votes. Consequently, Saenuri obtained only a slim majority (152 out of 300 seats) in the National Assembly.
“The growth of the progressives was pulling South Korean politics to the Left, which caused great alarm to the conservatives,” a UPP assessment states.
2. In the December 2012 presidential election won by Park, the UPP fielded against her its chairwoman, Lee Jung-hee. During a nationwide television debate between the two, Lee bluntly criticized Park Chung-hee for allegedly having been a “proactive Japanese collaborator” because he “adulated” Japan during its colonial rule over Korea.
3. In July 2013 information surfaced in the mass media that the NIS had illegally intervened in the presidential election. In large numbers, the people held candlelight protests and demanded that Park Geun-hye take full responsibility and investigate the matter. During the legislative probe, the UPP actively sought to ferret out the truth. That spurred the NIS raids on the UPP offices and the filing of charges against Lee Seok-ki.
In October a national audit of the elections revealed that other state agencies, including the Korean Armed Forces Cyber Command, were involved in illegal activities to support the Saenuri Party.
Parallel episodes in two countries. Will the outcomes be parallel too?
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Published in The Philippine Star
September 13, 2014